Cotton Bowl Preview and Prediction: Ohio State – USC

by Christopher Griffin – Wannamakeabet Staff Writer

The New Year’s Six officially kicks off tomorrow night as two of the most iconic college football programs face off against each other in the Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium. The Big Ten Champion Ohio State Buckeyes (11-2, 6-7 ATS) battle against the PAC-12 Champion USC Trojans (11-2, 3-9-1 ATS).

The Trojans are 7.5 point underdogs, while the over/under for the game is currently slated at 65. This game may not be a playoff matchup, but it is still one of the most intriguing games of the bowl season. The Buckeyes are trying to avenge a seven-game losing streak to USC, which dates back all the way to the 1974 Rose Bowl.

This game has all the makings of a classic shootout headlined by the outstanding quarterbacks, Sam Darnold of USC and J.T. Barrett of Ohio State. Darnold’s name continues to be on the top of the 2018 NFL Draft list after a slow start to the season. USC’s gunslinger seemingly threw the ball away at will during the first month and a half of the season, but he has only only been picked off three times in the Trojans’ last seven games.

However, the key to a Trojan victory may be their running game, which is led by Ronald Jones. Jones has rushed for 1,486 yards and 18 touchdowns this season.

The Buckeyes will once again lean on J.T. Barrett, who has had a roller coaster of a season. His high point of the season was leading a dramatic 4th quarter comeback against Penn State on October 28th. However, the week after he was picked off four times in a blowout loss to Iowa. The running game will be a key to victory for the Buckeyes as well. The two-headed- monster running attack of J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber will be crucial for the Buckeyes. If these two get a good amount of carries early on, then the aerial attack of Barrett will open up and propose problems to the Trojans’ secondary.

Even though these two squads are known for their explosive offenses, the game may still be determined on the defensive side of the ball. USC was inflicted by the turnover bug for the majority of the season, which was the main reason for their slow start to the season. The Trojans rank 103rd in the country for turnovers lost, No. 98 in fumbles lost, and No. 82 in interceptions thrown. With that being said, Ohio State ranks just 42nd in the country in turnovers gained. It is safe to say that this game will be decided by turnovers.

There is no question that this game will be a high scoring affair. The over is 8-2 in Ohio State’s last 10 contests, while the over is 5-2 in USC’s last 7. 65 points is a large total, but don’t be surprised if it goes over. The Trojans pass-rushing attack is one of the most feared in the country. USC averages 3.3 sacks a game, which is 5th in all of FBS and 1st in the PAC 12. In the Urban Meyer Era, talented pass rushers has been a common trait of Ohio State losses, so if the Trojans are able to get to J.T. Barret, one can expect a Trojan upset win.

This may not be the Bowl game that either team wanted or expected going into the season, but nonetheless it has the feeling of a playoff game and is basically the de facto Rose Bowl game. The Buckeyes may be angry after getting snubbed out of the playoff, but the Trojans are more talented than any other team the Buckeyes have faced in the Big 10 this season.

Christmas may be over, but do yourself favor and get a late Christmas Present with the Trojans receiving 7.5 points. Sam Darnold is playing for the top overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft, so expect the gunslinger to protect the ball and have a huge night in Jerry World.

There is no reason why this game should be a touchdown spread and the Trojans will prove that.

Easy Money Pick: USC +7.5

Final Prediction: USC: 37 Ohio State: 35

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